Value of Masters Degree in the ‘Real World’

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With a new masters degree from the pioneering Master of Science in Prosthetics and Orthotics (MSPO) program at Georgia Tech, I entered the "real world" of O&P on June 13, 2005, as an orthotics and prosthetics resident at the University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, New York. I have been asked to share some thoughts on my challenges during the past year, my perceptions on the value of a masters degree in clinical practice, and where I hope to see the O&P profession in the future.

For me, the most challenging aspect in transitioning from student to resident has been adapting to pathological populations. In school you are training on your classmates and relatively simple patient models, whereas in clinical practice you are exposed to severe spasticity, behavioral issues, obesity, language barriers, and many other challenges. Time and patient load management have been two other noteworthy challenges. Making sure all your modifications are done on time, placing orders for components, dictating notes, and returning phone calls all take up valuable time between patient evaluations, deliveries, and follow-ups. Much is at stake; your patients and coworkers are relying on you. Along with these challenges I have a wonderful opportunity to exercise independent and creative thinking in planning patient management.

In order to assess the value of a masters degree to clinical practice, I believe it is important to distinguish between an academic, thesis-based masters and a clinically based masters, with the MSPO program being the latter. Initially this distinction was lost upon some in the O&P community, and I believe that this created some confusion as to the benefit a masters degree would have when applied to clinical practice. The value of a clinically based masters degree in O&P is different for each individual, depending on how he or she intends to apply it. To some, it is simply a logical progression after completing a bachelors degree in a related field. To others, it provides them with the appropriate time to learn a widening base of knowledge that is being demanded of current and future O&P practitioners. The pursuit of a masters degree also allows for a greater focus on research than current entry-level programs are able to provide. Students are introduced to research at a basic level where they are able to critically analyze research and decide for themselves its appropriate application in a clinical setting. This hopefully will lead to more clinicians becoming involved in O&P research teams or the pursuit of a subsequent academic terminal degree (PhD). Other benefits include:

  • Advancement of O&P educational programs by establishing a pool for future faculty/instructors with higher degrees;
  • Increasing the recognition of our field among other professions and establishing it as a separate profession, not just a trade.

As I continue to pursue my career in O&P, there are several developments that I would like to see for the profession in the future:

  • The re-creation of more financially viable institutional-based clinical practices coinciding with the creation of more advanced O&P educational programs.
  • I also would like to see a desire of all clinicians to interact with the research community on some level--be it deriving new knowledge through controlled investigations or applying this newly derived knowledge in clinical practice.
  • Lastly, in the future I would like to see clinical practices being guided by best outcome databases based on controlled investigations while maintaining an element of the clinical creativity that makes O&P what it is--fun, exciting, and rewarding.
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